I'm devastated, says owner of pet huskies shot dead on farm
Two pet husky dogs were shot dead when they strayed onto the agri-science farm next to Hillsborough Forest Park.
Pets 'Ice' and 'Alaska' were shot dead by staff at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Farm (AFBI) last week after they were discovered worrying pregnant sheep.
Their devastated owner Keith Johnston, from nearby Culcavy, has mounted an online petition to protest at the extreme action taken against his much-loved animals.
MP for the area Jeffrey Donaldson has also written to the AFBI chief executive about the circumstances of the shooting and to ask about the security of "this important test facility".
Mr Johnston described how he received a phone call from Lisburn's dog warden on January 3 to say his two huskies had been shot dead. "It took me a while to take it in," Mr Johnston said.
"They must have escaped from their pen at my house and made their way to Hillsborough Forest Park.
"My girlfriend and I often take them there. It's about a mile from my house, they loved it there.
"The dogs were both chipped so the dog warden was able to contact me. I'm led to believe the dogs had got into the bioscience farm and got among cattle.
"They were rounded up and then the dogs got away and went into a field of sheep and that's when they were shot."
He added: "We are just devastated. They were brilliant dogs. Ice would have been four years old this year.
"I only got Alaska in October because someone had abandoned her. She was just a year old."
Mr Johnston contacted Mr Donaldson, and has received support from other pet owners in the area who are concerned about the shooting.
"A lot of pet owners are concerned like me about this," he said. The biosciences farm is beside a public park, widely used for walking dogs.
"There is not satisfactory fencing in place to secure both areas, nor any signs available to warn pet lovers that there is any livestock in the area."
In a statement, the AFBI said "there was no option but to shoot the dogs" after they were found worrying pregnant ewes.
"Despite repeated and concerted efforts, staff were unable to stop the dogs worrying the sheep," it said.
"As the sheep were in a highly distressed condition, and given the risk of loss of unborn lambs, there was no option but to shoot the dogs using a legally held firearm to protect the flock."
Under the Dogs Order (NI) 1983, it is against the law for dogs to chase or attack livestock.
AFBI Hillsborough, formerly the Agricultural Research Institute of Northern Ireland, was established in 1927 with the aim of undertaking research into crop and animal production. Now known as the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, it has a research farm of 200 hectares next to Hillsborough Forest Park.
The farm has a wide range of research programmes, including beef, milk, sheep and pig production, heifer rearing, and crop production.
The institute is world-renowned for leading cutting-edge research in agriculture that assists both government and private sector organisations.